Surrounded by a band, dancers and thousands of anxious shoppers, the new Scheels Sporting Goods store opened Saturday on Billings’ West End.

The two-story, 220,000-square-foot store is the centerpiece of the Shiloh Crossing development, a $40 million destination shopping spot that developers say will be the foundation of Billings’ newest retail corridor.

“This is epic, blockbuster retailing. No one but Scheels is building stores like this,” said Steve Corning, developer of the Shiloh Crossing.

Scheels is the largest retail store in Billings, and organizers planned a big celebration starting 6 a.m. on the opening day. The Green Man Group Drumline of Utah Valley University joined dancers from Billings West High School. Kids played in a bouncy gym, and free coffee and doughnuts were served in the parking lot.

More than 1,000 people were outside in lines stretching across the whole parking lot when the store opened promptly at 9 a.m. Some even stayed overnight, and many bundled up in sleeping bags, ski hats and sweatshirts.

Jay Forseth and his family were the first to arrive, staking their spot about 4:30 p.m. Friday to pull an all-nighter. His daughter, Sarah, was turning 18 on Saturday, and this is how she wanted to celebrate, he said.

“This is what she wanted to do, and she thought it would be good, clean fun,” the Columbus man said.

“We’re just excited about the Ferris wheel. And then to see all the good trophy mounts of the animals will be great,” Forseth added.

At the store’s south entrance, Billings retiree Kirk Stewart arrived at 10 p.m. Friday to claim the first spot of that line. He was joined five hours later by fellow retiree Buddy Schroeder, who was anxious to check out the deals on ammunition.

“I was trying to get my wife to come with me, but she said no way,” Stewart said with a laugh.

Jay Selman of Worden arrived early Saturday with his 10-year-old son Stran and some friends.

“We got here a little before 5 this morning,” he said. “We had some friends call and say they were giving out stuff, and we wanted to see the store. And then my son heard about the Ferris wheel, and that’s what he wanted to do.”

About a half dozen Billings police officers were also on hand for crowd control, but no major problems arose in the festive atmosphere.

Inside, the first shoppers were greeted by cheering employees and music. Many gaped at the giant saltwater aquarium at the front entrance and other sights.

“They did a great job of keeping it fun,” said Kara Lekse of Billings, whose husband is a Scheels employee.

About 10 minutes after the doors opened, a pack of about two dozen shoppers jammed into the ammunition aisles of the hunting section on the second floor, seeking hard-to-find .22 caliber bullets.

Lance McKinnon, a 39-year-old Billings mechanic, said he wished the store had a better map to help him find all the merchandise, but he was impressed overall.

“I like it. It’s beautiful,” said McKinnon, adding that he expects to shop more frequently at the new store.

Billings couple Troy and Amy Ohlhausen were browsing hunting rifles nearby, checking for deals.

“We’ve been in sporting goods stores, but you’re more likely to bring kids and family here,” Amy Ohlhausen said.

John Yakawich, whose wife works at the store, said his daughter was in town from Seattle for the opening.

“It’s very exciting,” he said. They attended the VIP opening Friday night, but after a few hours Yakawich said he got too tired and couldn’t walk anymore. “There’s a lot inside to see,” he said.

Regina Richardson of Billings brought her two children.

“I think it’s pretty amazing,” she said. “It’s quite the building. I wasn’t expecting it to be this big.”

Officials at Scheels announced the new store four years ago, and they closed their old, smaller store at Rimrock Mall on Aug. 24. Company officials designed the new store to give shoppers an experience they can’t get with online retailers, which includes entertainment, food and games.

The main event is a 16-car Eli Bridge Co. Ferris wheel, where some stood in line for a full hour to get a 25-minute ride.

Mandi Hall of Townsend said she was happy that her two kids, 6-year-old Hannah and 3-year-old Molly, can ride the Ferris wheel while her husband shops for hunting gear.

“It’s just really cool they have something for kids,” Hall said, adding that Scheels is a likely destination for regular shopping trips into Billings.

Other attractions include a mini bowling alley, a golf simulator and putting green, shooting galleries and talking, animatronic figures of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.

On the second floor, a crowd gathered around the 35-foot artificial mountain on the second floor that held 200 different stuffed and mounted animals. A massive bull moose stood next to a couple tom turkeys, a pheasant and a ptarmigan, a medium-size game bird in the grouse family.

Customers also took breaks for food at Gramma Ginna’s, which sold burgers, sandwiches, wraps and desserts. Nearby, individuals stopped by to try samples of the varieties of fudge made at the store. They chose from varieties including dark chocolate caramel sea salt, amaretto chocolate swirl and Beartooth pass coconut dough.

In one of the booths, Latasha Azure, 25, and Brittney Brown, both of Billings, enjoyed fresh-made wraps from the restaurant. They said they came to check out all the “hype.”

“It seems like they’ve got a lot more to offer” than the mall store, Brown said.

By noon, all of the store’s 350 employees were working the floor. The new store has about 230 more employees than the old mall location.

Store officials said they were pleased with the turnout. Assistant team leader Matt Cowan said employees had worked hard over the past two weeks and are proud to show off the new store.

“So far, it’s been great. I think (customers) are enjoying the experience,” he said.

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